The third post on Alan Rawsthorne’s: Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra features a major review of the score written by Paul Earls in Notes (March 1970). The score was published in 1968.
Although this review was completed about 18 months before the Rawsthorne’s death on 24 July 1971, Earls does seem to have suggested that the composer’s career was ‘rounding out a distinguished career in the British musical world.’ Nowadays someone aged 65 would feel that they may have at least another 15-20 years of achievement before them. Earls reminds the reader that Rawthorne’s musical style reflects ‘a solid neo-classical, modal, Hindemithian idiom’ that has suffered little change since the early 1950s. He considers that the present work is in the lineage of ‘Vaughan Williams, Walton, and early Britten.’ The reason adduced for this apparent conservative style is the ‘functional’ requirement of a commission for the Essex Youth Orchestra.
An excellent (if overly technical) analysis and overview of the work is presented which includes ‘revolving open-fifth bass underpinnings, bel-canto melodic patterns containing fold-back cross-relations, half-step modulations, melodic and harmonic sequences, hemiola patterns, two-voice checker-game counterpoint, two-voice semi-chromatic tetrachordal wedges (evolving to a banal fully chromatic open wedge to unison C at the end), triadic and quartal sonorities (along with a few poly-modal structures), perfect-fifth modality, motoric rhythmic flow, and the leisurely logic of his variation technique.’ Dissonance, where encountered is nearly always mitigated by other ‘musical elements’ that are fundamentally ‘conventional.’
I accept that these technical descriptions will need to be unpicked with a music dictionary in one hand. Without the score, I could not even begin to relate this commentary to the music.
Finally, Earls considers the scoring of the work. He thinks that this is contrived to ‘textbook’ standard. Elements of the score ‘often look like pages from an exercise book, and would probably serve that ancillary purpose well, as they thoroughly explore variants of familiar finger patterns.’
He concludes his detailed reviews with a bit of a backhanded compliment ‘The work should be gratifying to play and hear, considering its purpose and modest and honest pretensions. Although it will make no mark for itself on any wider scale, it is a worthy example of well-wrought education materials in an outmoded style.’
Unfortunately, it has remained one of Alan Rawsthorne’ least known orchestral works even amongst those listeners who are enthusiasts for his music.
The final instalment of these postings will examine some reviews of the only recording of Alan Rawsthorne: Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra, Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7203, 2008).